Obama review finds no 'inappropriate' contacts with governor

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 15, 2008 

CHICAGO — President-elect Barack Obama said on Monday that an internal review confirms that no one on his staff had any "inappropriate" discussions with disgraced Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, but he's postponing release of the full review until next week at the request of federal prosecutors investigating Blagojevich for corruption.

"I would ask for your patience because I do not want to interfere with an ongoing investigation," Obama said during a news conference in Chicago, which he called to formally announce his appointments to lead energy and environment policy.

He planned to name his choice to lead the Department of the Interior and some other administration posts later this week before leaving for a family visit to Hawaii.

Environmental activists applauded the selections of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Chu as energy secretary; former Clinton Environmental Protection Agency administrator Carol Browner to fill a new White House post dubbed "climate czar" to coordinate or energy and climate policy; Lisa Jackson as Environmental Protection Agency administrator; and Nancy Sutley as chairwoman of the Council on Environmental Quality.

Environmentalists said the selections suggest that Obama will move quickly on policies to curb global warming and expand alternative energy research. Obama's selections will "restore scientific integrity" to the federal government, said Natural Resources Defense Council president Frances Beinecke.

The Republican National Committee quickly noted that Chu has supported slowly raising gasoline taxes to encourage greater fuel efficiency and conservation.

Obama said his team would create a "new energy economy" and is committed to curbing climate change and dependence on foreign oil. He said that Chu's appointment specifically "should send a signal to all that my administration will value science, we will make decisions based on the facts, and we understand that facts demand bold action."

Browner, an attorney who's worked as an environmental consultant for businesses, told Congress in September that climate change is "one of the greatest environmental, social, and economic challenges our country has ever faced," but also "a tremendous opportunity" to move toward energy independence and new clean jobs. She said it was in the nation's best economic and environmental interests to act quickly.

One of the EPA's main achievements in the eight years that Browner directed it was a program that sharply reduced acid rain. It called for businesses to trade sulfur dioxide allowances granted by the government, and cost far less than originally expected.

Chu, who's directed the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, advocates more substantive government action to address global warming and has overseen alternative energy research for transportation, including fuels from non-food plants, solar power and artificial photosynthesis.

EPA pick Jackson ran New Jersey's department of environmental protection, while Sutley has been involved in energy policy at several levels in California, including as top energy adviser to former Gov. Gray Davis. She's also a former special assistant to Browner at EPA.

Earlier in the day, Obama met privately with his national security team, but his staff declined to release any details about that meeting.

Obama took three questions at the news conference.

He declined to directly answer how quickly he intended to give California permission to regulate greenhouse gas emissions or whether he'd reinstate a ban on offshore oil drilling.

He said his new energy and environment team would review such questions, but that he felt California had traditionally led the way on environmental policy, and also that he's "not thrilled" with the offshore ban simply having lapsed even though he's open to the idea of more offshore drilling as part of a comprehensive program to achieve energy independence.

He was asked when the economy would get better and how Americans should hold him accountable. "I don't have a crystal ball," he said, but said ultimately the test would be whether he creates jobs and strengthens the economy as he's promised.

Last, Obama described Blagojevich's alleged machinations, including accusations that he sought to sell Obama's vacated Senate seat, an "appalling set of circumstances" and emphasized that his transition team's review confirmed that he'd had no direct contact with Blagojevich on the matter.

He declined to discuss details, however, including the nature of any contacts his incoming chief of staff, Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., may have had with the governor's office, pending the public release of the internal review.

(Talev reported from Chicago, Schoof from Washington.)

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